Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Congregational Church of the Evangel (United Church of Christ)
Address: 1950 Bedford Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Hawthorne Street
Neighborhood: Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Year Built: 1916-17, interior; Tiffany window installed in 1927
Architectural Style: Late Gothic Revival
Architect: Harold S. Granger, interior designed by Carroll Pratt
Other Work by Architect: Granger – no other work found. Carroll Pratt – houses in Prospect Park South and other Flatbush suburban areas, also post offices
Landmarked: No, but on National Register of Historic Places (2010)
The story: In 1907, several members of the Lewis Avenue Congregational Church in Stuyvesant Heights and the Flatbush Congregational Church met to discuss the possibility of establishing a Congregational Church in northern Flatbush. They rented an old Flatbush Avenue mansion for services, and wrote up a charter. The 83 people who signed the charter book were the founding members of the church. In a wonderful tradition, anyone who joins the church to this day signs their name in this same book.
The church took its name from the Evangel Circle of the Lewis Avenue Church. One of the first tasks of the new church was to raise money to build a church on land on the corner of Hawthorne and Bedford, bought for $15,000 by one of the parishioners. In 1916, the cornerstone of this church was laid, with much fanfare.
The architectural firm that would design the English Gothic Revival stone church was that of Nelson & Van Wagenen. They were well-known church architects, responsible for the Fort Washington Collegiate Church and Bethany Memorial Church, in Manhattan, as well as other sacred and secular buildings. Harold S. Granger was an associate with the firm, and is credited with the design of this church. He did a very nice job, but this is the only building of his that I was able to find.
The Church of the Evangel was going up at the same time much of the neighborhood was being developed, yet the design invokes a much earlier time, and this familiar and ancient design anchors the building into the neighborhood, making the apartment buildings, traditional limestones, and more modern brick houses seem to all be newcomers to the area, even though the entire neighborhood was built up in only about 20 years, this church included.
Granger used as his building material granite excavated from Manhattan bedrock, in the digging of the subway tunnels. This stone was rendered as quarried ashlar, and makes up the body of the church, with wooden trusses and buttresses, and a slate roof. The Sunday School portion of the building was completed first, allowing the congregation to hold services until the main sanctuary could be finished. The design of the interior was done by Carroll H. Pratt, a local Flatbush architect who took over the position of chief architect for Dean Alvord’s Prospect Park South development. He was a trustee of this church, and was quite active in the committee to get the church built.
The church was dedicated in 1917; ten years after the founders signed their charter. Ten years after that, the church celebrated its 20th anniversary, highlighted by a gift of a large Tiffany Studio window donated by Emma Cromwell, in memory of her brother, Joseph Milton Cromwell. This window depicts an angel speaking to the women at Christ’s empty tomb. It is called the Cromwell Memorial Window, and is an incredibly beautiful example of Tiffany Studio talent and artistry.
The church soon became a social center for the community, hosting scout troops, men’s and women’s groups, and sports activities. The church was home to the largest Boy Scout troop in the entire country in the 1920s, and the largest Girl Scout troop in the state of New York. 41 members of this church volunteered in World War I, and 58 in World War II. During each war, ladies’ groups volunteered, sending goods and letters to the troops, and they organized Red Cross drives.
When PLG integrated, the church did as well, welcoming in newcomers. As the years have passed, the church has continued to host community groups and activities, and the church has aided in landmarking and other community activities, even though it is outside of the PLG Historic District. The congregation has maintained the building well, and was added to the National Register in 2010. Today, Reverend Lisa Robinson, the church’s first female pastor, leads the congregation. GMAP